Nonprofit worries Iowa regulators are facilitating ‘puppy laundering’

A state agency in Iowa is charging a nonprofit $225 to offset the cost of searching for puppy mill records, which the agency now admits it doesn’t keep track of.

The nonprofit group billed for those expenses objects to paying the state to search for records that don’t exist. But the group says its bigger concern is that the state needs to have that data on hand and use it to prevent the illegal sale of animals to out-of-state retailers.

In late June, Mindi Callison of the Iowa-based animal welfare organization Bailing Out Benji filed a formal request for Open Records Law with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to access all government forms for 2021-22 that an Iowa dog breeder, Steve Kruse from West Point, had filled in where he ships his dogs.

In response, the department estimated it would take 8.75 hours, versus $25 an hour, to search for the documents, which would add up to a $218.75 cost. The agency said that “once the request is completed,” Callison would receive an invoice for the expenses, and that once payment was received, she would receive an email with a link to a Dropbox account where she could access the records in question.

Callison approved the estimate. Two weeks later, IDALS informed her that the search for the data had been completed and sent her a $225 bill for nine hours of searching – although the agency provided no data.

When asked for an explanation, IDALS administrative assistant Jamie Carter Callison told IDALS that IDALS did not keep such records, noting that while federal regulations require breeders to complete and track their sales, IDALS does not keep copies of it. collects. documents.

Callison says she’s frustrated that the department charged her $225 for looking for records it doesn’t keep under policy. But the bigger problem for her is the fact that IDALS doesn’t keep track of where Iowa breeders send the dogs they sell.

Last year, Callison contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture in an effort to collect copies of similar data related to another Iowa breeder, JAKS Puppies in Britt. She ran into the same problem there, with the USDA explaining that while breeders are required to fill out the forms, the USDA does not collect or maintain them. In that case, however, the USDA did not charge Callison for searching documents.

“His animals don’t seem to go anywhere.”

Callison says the lack of registration by both the federal and state governments is a “huge loophole” in the regulatory system. She says the loophole allows for a national puppy-laundering program, with breeders producing puppies that are mistakenly labeled as “rescues” to boost sales.

Failure to keep records of where the animals come from and where they are sent means that animal welfare organizations cannot hold such breeders — or their government overseers — accountable for such transactions, Callison says.

“Neither our state nor the USDA keeps any kind of records showing where the animals go within states,” Callison says. She says Kruse is one of the largest commercial dog farms in the nation “but his animals don’t seem to be going anywhere.”

She notes that while documentation is required when animals cross state lines, no one in Iowa uses those documents to track where the animals go. Federal records show some were sold to Daniel Gingerich, the former Wayne County breeder who was shut down by federal officials last year, she said.

“The state and USDA allowed Kruse to take back sick and emaciated dogs from Daniel Gingerich after (Kruse) sold the dogs to that facility in the first place, while Kruse has a history of not caring for his animals,” said Kruse. Callison, citing USDA reports past violations. In December 2015, Kruse received a 21-day suspension from the USDA license after throwing a bag of two dead puppies at a USDA inspector.

The Iowa Capital Dispatch was unable to reach Kruse for comment.

“The largest breeders and brokers in our state are able to secretly sell puppies to each other,” Callison said, “without any supervision and then run those sales through local brokers before crossing state lines.”

That process, she said, allows breeders with histories of violations to circumvent a growing number of state and municipal laws designed to prevent pet stores from purchasing puppies and dogs that come from breeders who are repeat offenders.

When asked about the $225 fee charged for bailing out Benji and IDAL’s filing practices, department spokesman Don McDowell said the agency would investigate these issues next week.

Iowa Attorney General is suing for ‘puppy laundering’

In 2019, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller sued two nonprofits and a commercial broker, accusing them of illegally transferring hundreds of commercially produced puppies through fake nonprofit “rescue organizations” who in turn sold the dogs to out-of-state retailers.

JAKS Puppies and the two self-proclaimed nonprofits – Hobo K9 Rescue of Britt and Rescue Pets Iowa Corp. of Ottumwa — transferred at least 3,600 dogs to New Jersey, Florida, California, Illinois and Missouri and over a three-year period, Miller claimed. By directing the dogs through the fake nonprofits, breeders were able to successfully circumvent laws banning the sale of dogs from puppy mills, Miller accused.

Chicago retailer Pet Luv had bought and sold approximately 765 Hobo K9 puppies for over $1.1 million. The store’s written “puppy guarantees” to customers claimed the dogs came from Hobo K9 Rescue, not the for-profit breeders whose puppies Hobo K9 brokered. Pet Luv sold most dogs for over $1,000 each.

Evidence of the alleged puppy money laundering program included the fact that Jolyn Noethe, a co-owner of JAK’s, was also co-chair of Hobo K9 Rescue, and Kimberly Dolphin, another co-owner of JAK, was the treasurer of Hobo K9 Rescue.

With Russell A. Kirk, president of Rescue Pets Iowa, Noethe and Dolphin agreed to a settlement that required them to dissolve their nonprofit and pay the state $60,000.

At the time, Miller expressed concern that with an increasing number of states and cities banning the sale of dogs from puppy mills, other unscrupulous breeders could engage in “puppy laundering” to maintain sales.

Iowa is home to many of the largest puppy factories in the country. In the second quarter of 2022, a total of 23 Iowa breeders and brokers were sued by the USDA for regulatory violations — the highest number of violators from any state in the nation. Missouri came in a distant second for violators at 13.

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